Monday’s much-anticipated virtual meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping was less about improving frosty relations, but more about avoiding further escalation of what some see as an evolving Cold War between the US and China. There was no breakthrough, but one was not expected either. The two leaders could not even agree on a joint statement afterwards.
Instead, they separately listed the areas of disagreement over trade, regional security frictions and Taiwan, and dealt with veiled and less veiled threats. Xi warned Taiwan that US support for the island’s diplomatic efforts for international recognition “is like playing with fire, and those who play with fire will burn themselves”.
They disagreed to call meetings of officials to resolve disagreements except in one respect, which Biden has termed nuclear “strategic stability,” a first sign of willingness to ease tensions over serious security issues. decrease, of which there are a few. , and in particular US concerns over China’s plans to quadruple its stockpile of nuclear warheads to at least 1,000 by 2030.
Although the US has about 3,800 nuclear warheads, it is alarmed that Beijing appears to be shifting its five-decade-old nuclear stance from “minimal deterrence” to preserving just enough weapons to retaliate against an enemy attack. Defense analysts warn that a shift in the nuclear balance could lead China to believe it could defeat the US in a conventional clash over Taiwan, facilitating Chinese domination of areas like the South China Sea.
The trade war that Donald Trump started, albeit on pause, remains unresolved, with China still more than $180 billion short of a pledge to buy $380 billion worth of US products by December 31, and the US continues to impose tariffs on Chinese goods. No progress there, or on human rights violations in Xinjiang or Hong Kong.
Xi also made it clear that new hopes for cooperation on issues like climate change will depend on improving issues across the spectrum of the relationship — a daunting task.